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What’s the most rewarding part of building a startup?
In the startup world, you experience challenges every day. But when you break through those barriers, and you’re solving those problems, it’s thrilling. That’s part of the beauty. You’re making what people say is impossible, possible. That’s what becomes so exciting—especially if you’re the first to do it.
You worked as a lawyer on Wall Street before stepping out on your own. What prompted you to make this shift?
The story begins before I was born. In 1896, my great grandfather came over on a ship from Austria, landed at Ellis Island, and settled into the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the original garment district. As an immigrant trying to achieve the American Dream, he had to make a living. So he started taking old materials—fabrics and furs that people weren’t using—and repurposed them to make beautiful garments. He built an incredibly profitable and successful business. He didn’t talk about it as sustainability, but that’s what it was!
I’d always had this dream of using tech, but going back to the way my great grandfather did business—building something good for people, good for the planet, and good for profit.
On Wall Street, I represented companies across the fashion, startup, and tech industries. And it was very exciting … and then the market crashed. It was a dark time, seeing the height of waste and greed. And I realized, this was my opportunity. If not now, when?
Where did the idea for Queen of Raw come from?
Before Queen of Raw, I co-founded another textile startup, Paper No. 9. I’d visit brand warehouses all over the world and see all this perfectly good fabric sitting there collecting dust. These brands would say they hadn’t accounted for it yet, or they had taken a liability on the books and had to burn it or send it to landfill—there was no alternative.
A lightbulb went off: all these people pay to access these materials, and all this stuff is just sitting here. We could do something about this mismatch between supply and demand.
So, how does Queen of Raw work?
We’re creating a global marketplace where businesses can turn their raw material waste into profit. Brands use our platform to post their unused fabrics, the platform uses blockchain and machine learning to identify and verify material properties, and then it matches them intelligently to buyers around the world—giving them a good price for what they need, when they need it.
Our tools also help businesses minimize their waste streams going forward. We track the water, toxins, energy, and dollars they save by using our platform. We’ve already saved businesses up to 15 percent off their bottom line annually—and over 1 billion gallons of water while doing it!
What’s the broader impact?
Textile production is the number one polluter of clean water, after agriculture. If we continue at the current pace of textile production, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face a shortage of freshwater and will be exposed to hazardous chemicals from textile production alone. This isn’t 50 years from now—it’s happening today on our shores.
However, textiles also have the power to solve the world's water crisis. It takes over 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt. Excessive water consumption is just one part of the problem, because so many textiles aren’t used. Year over year, $120 billion of unused fabric sits in warehouses. It’s massive.
Why apply to Solve?
Being a part of Solve’s Circular Economy Challenge has been incredible. Having the MIT name, and being connected to Solve’s list of mentors and partners has provided some mind-blowing opportunities. Even just going through the process at Solve Challenge Finals—the interviews, the on-stage pitch, and then having real Q&A time with industry-leading judges—was valuable and gave us new ideas.
We started in fashion and textiles, but based on some of the conversations and potential partnerships we’ve had through Solve, we’re already thinking about other raw material categories and verticals we could expand into.
This interview originally appeared on the Sincerely, Hueman podcast.